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Have you ever felt like work and obligations take up waaayyy to much of your time? Like your entire life is spent toiling away at tasks that have little or nothing to do with who you are or what you really want to do with your life? If you are shaking your head violently up and down in an affirming manner, then you know just how the speaker in Philip Larkin's poem "Toads" feels.
In "Toads," the speaker struggles to figure out why he lives a life dominated by work, and he wonders if, perhaps, there's another way. Spoiler Alert: for this speaker, there isn't. Bummer.
Larkin wrote a lot about sadness and feeling unfulfilled, so "Toads" is the kind of poem we'd expect. Larkin once famously said, "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, […] most people are unhappy, don't you think?" So, if you're looking for unicorns and rainbows, Larkin is not your guy.
"Toads" was included in Larkin's 1955 book, The Less Deceived. Although he had previously published another book of poetry (The North Ship) and two novels, The Less Deceived was the book that put Larkin on the poetry map. Larkin's tone and style seemed to resonate with his post- war, English audience.
Today, Larkin is considered by many to be one of the finest English poets of the twentieth century. He died in 1985 at the age of sixty-three. Phil didn't turn out tons of poems in his life, but what he did write is still being read in high schools, colleges, and coffee shops by folks who think his work is just toad-ally awesome. (Um, sorry.)
Homework. Tests. SATs. Homework. Yeah, we said homework twice. There's that much. Shmoop knows all about it. It's a pretty safe bet that, at one time or another, you've felt like work and obligations take up just about all your time. Sometimes, it gets to the point where it seems like you don't have any time to spend on the stuff you actually want to do. Is this any way to live? Well, that's exactly the question posed in Philip Larkin's poem, "Toads." That question leads the speaker to wonder why he doesn't just walk away from it all—and that's where things get interesting.
Why don't most of us just walk away from expectations and obligations? Some people do. But most of us don't. We complain about it. Sure. But we don't quit. Why? What keeps you coming back for more? Is it a positive force or a negative one? Does it really matter as long as the work gets done and you achieve your goals? This poem gives us the chance to ask some of these big questions and to consider how the answers affect the way we live our lives. So hop on in gang. (And no, we won't stop with the toad-related puns. They're just too much fun.)
Larkin from A-Z
This is a good Larkin bio from our pals at the Poetry Foundation.
All Things Phil
How do you know you've hit the poetry big-time? You've got your own society.
Try the sequel, "Toads Revisited."
"And then Phil said…"
Larkin didn't have a problem speaking his mind. Here are some examples:
Still Thinking About Those Toad Sculptures?
Well then, look no further than this mini-documentary on the Larkin Toads Project.
Check out this short video about the discovery of some forgotten Larkin recordings.
The Hermit of Hull
Dig this doc, all about Larkin's life and work.
Larkin Reads "Toads"
Here's your chance to check out Phil reading "Toads." It might sound different than you expected. Or, it might not.
"Toads" Take Two
Well-known writer and radio personality Garrison Keillor reads "Toads." Which version do you prefer, Phil's or Garrison's? (An introduction to Larkin begins at the 1.55 mark, the poem starts at 2.50.)
A Young Larkin
This is a good picture of Phil as a young, bespectacled man in Oxford.
Larkin Later in Life…
Hey, a smile. We guess you can't be bummed out and toad-squashed all the time.
Larkin in the The Paris Review
Larkin wasn't a big fan of interviews, but The Paris Review convinced him to give it a shot.
Larkin Tribute Reading at Cooper Union
The New Yorker considers Larkin out loud, and other Larkin-y stuff.
The Less Deceived
Here's the book that includes "Toads"—well, not real toads, that would just be, well, messy.
Haven't Gotten Your Fill of Phil?
Click here for a bunch of books by Larkin.